Arkansas Republicans seem to be more focused on eliminating a woman’s right to choose than they are on anything else. Republicans in the general assembly passed a pair of anti-abortion bills on Thursday which would directly challenge the forty-year-old US Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.
The first bill, HB 1037, is a fetal pain bill claiming that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks of development even though there is no science to prove such a claim. According to the Arkansas News Bureau, the bill would prohibit an abortion at the point at which it maintains a fetus can feel pain, 20 weeks. Originally, it only included exceptions for pregnancies that threatened the life of the mother or irreversible physical impairment to the mother, but the House has added an amendment making exceptions for women who are the victims of rape or incest. The bill passed by a vote of 80-10 and now heads to Governor Mike Beebe (D) who hasn’t decided whether he will sign the bill or not.
But that wasn’t the only bill the House passed. The second anti-abortion bill would go even further to ban abortion, by banning it after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat has been detected. In order to detect a heartbeat in these early weeks an invasive transvaginal ultrasound would be required, although the procedure is not mentioned or mandated in the bill. But Republicans could always mandate such ultrasounds later. Previously passed by the Senate, SB 134 passed the House by a vote of 68-20. The bill now goes back to the Senate for a second look after the House added “exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies and medical emergencies, and replacement of language that would have made it a felony for a physician to perform an abortion after 12 weeks with new language that instead would punish an offending doctor with revocation of his or her medical license.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot ban abortions until after the fetus is able to survive outside of the womb, which occurs at 24 weeks of pregnancy, but that isn’t stopping Republicans. Despite the fact that America is governed by constitutional law with three branches of government and despite the separation of church and state that has been part of the nation’s foundation since the beginning, Arkansas Republicans are blunt about passing this law for religious reasons.
When asked about the bill and her support of it, state Rep. Kim Hammer replied “There is a high court of this land, but there’s a higher court of man, and it’s ruled by God.” Except that in this land, the only court that matters is the Supreme Court. Making a law based entirely on a particular religious belief is plainly unconstitutional. What if the woman wanting an abortion isn’t a Christian? What is she doesn’t believe in God at all? We should NOT force women to adhere to alleged religious law when her right to choose is protected by the Constitution.
Arkansas Democrats were able to make another point about choice thanks to the ignorance of another Republican. State Rep. Bob Ballinger tried to justify the bill by saying that “at one time slavery was constitutional.” This prompted a quick response by Democratic state Rep. Patti Julian, who pointed out that slavery denied people the ability to make choices, and that’s why it was wrong. “If we pass this bill, we take choices away from the women in this state,” she said.
Rep. Patti Julian is absolutely correct. Banning a woman’s right to choose forces women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. In a way, it enslaves women because they no longer have the freedom to make their own decisions about their health and body. The government would be taking that freedom away from them.
These bills are also scientifically unjustified because fetuses are incapable of feeling pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy. In fact, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, fetal pain is unlikely to occur before the third trimester. According to the article,
“Pain perception requires conscious recognition or awareness of a noxious stimulus. Neither withdrawal reflexes nor hormonal stress responses to invasive procedures prove the existence of fetal pain, because they can be elicited by nonpainful stimuli and occur without conscious cortical processing. Fetal awareness of noxious stimuli requires functional thalamocortical connections. Thalamocortical fibers begin appearing between 23 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, while electroencephalography suggests the capacity for functional pain perception in preterm neonates probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks.” The Journal concluded that “Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.”
That’s science, which is what we should be basing our laws on, not religious beliefs that would absolutely violate the beliefs and non-beliefs of others who are not Christian. Governor Mike Beebe could veto both bills, but would likely be overridden by the Republican dominated statehouse. So it may be only a matter of days before women in Arkansas are subject to right-wing interpretation of the Bible, instead of the rights protected by the US Constitution.